Sunday, October 30, 2011

10 Things to Improve Your Fitness

Here's an article originally written for the Miami Arnis Group martial arts newsletter.  The information is just so important I had to also share it here on Urban Survivalcraft.  Having a good level of fitness is one of the most important things you can do for yourself.  I will allow you to fight harder, work longer, and make you an all around more useful person.  It is too important to ignore.

Hi All,

I know it’s been a long time since the last article I wrote.  Sorry folks, sometimes life gets hectic.  This one has been floating around my head for some time.  In my first article, I gave my thoughts on practical fitness ( in a later article, I spoke of  the role of fitness in the survival/victory/success triangle (  In fact, I spoke so much about fitness some people actually questioned whether this was even a martial arts group and not a fitness group.  Well folks, fitness is that important!  Practical fitness will give us the endurance to train at a high level with adequate frequency.  It will also give us the resiliency not only to survive, but to thrive in the training environment.  Additionally, even if you aren’t involved in martial arts, having good fitness levels translates to a greater work capacity making one more useful in general. 
For the average martial arts enthusiast, who also juggle all the elements of a full life such as family, work and other interests, finding time to get fitness training in may be a challenge.  Which is why rather than trying to prescribe a particular fitness regime, I will share with you ten ways you can fit exercise into your lifestyle .  

1.       Jump rope whenever possible.  An easy way to fit it in, is to use it in your warm up for most workouts including your martial arts skills training.  I jump rope for about 5 minutes as a general warm up.  Rope jumping strengthens the calves and improves proprioception and balance at the ankle joint.  All of which prehab the ankle making it more resistant to injury but also improve your footwork making you “lighter on your feet.”

2.       Work your grip.  By improving your grip strength you are actually improving your upper body strength in general.  Your hands like your face have a greater “representation” in your brain.  The sum total of improved hand strength is that the freed nervous energy can now be better used by the primal movers.  It is as simple as keeping a challenging grip training device in your desk at work and using it a few times a week.

3.       Train the finger extensors.  A simple exercise done by placing a rubber band around your straight fingers and then opening them will reward you with more balanced hand strength.  This not only increases the amount of grip strength you can express due to structural balance but helps prevent imbalance injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome.  This is another exercise anyone can easily do while sitting in their desk at work.

4.       Master the pull up and its variations.  Here’s the upper body equivalent of a dead lift.  It works most if not all the upper body musculature including the abs.  Any fighter wishing to improve his power in either striking or grappling will be well served by working the pull up.  Additionally, the pull ups, helps improve the muscular balance of the shoulder which will increase the durability of the shoulder.  Anyone who regularly does heavy pressing, should include a steady diet of pull ups for shoulder health.
5.       If your are already working the pull up, also include hindu push ups.  This variety of push ups are excellent for shoulder and hip mobility.  They are also very suitable for high rep practice which leads to upper body endurance. They will both stretch the abs and work the arm extensors.  This will not only help maintain the balance in the upper body musculature but also help prehab the elbow.  The elbow naturally take a beating when one does pull ups on a bar on a regular basis.  This is an important reason for varying the grips or doing them on rings instead of a bar.

6.       Squats!  If you are not squatting you are missing out on possibly the most important exercise you’ll ever do.  Free squats (unweighted) are great for developing basic leg strength and endurance.  In very high reps they will have you breathing heavy in no time.  They can be quite “cardio.”  The do wonders for hip mobility.  They promote blood flow in normally stagnant area for most desk jockeys.  They massage internal organs and promote lymph flow.  They can be done with weights for improving strength and are a must in any serious practitioners fitness arsenal.

7.       Few people consider that even a visually “fit” person may still be quite sedentary and suffer many of the same ailments a regular sedentary person suffers.  An hour a day of training, will simply not counter hours of being sedentary.  Getting in some physical activity every hour or so is a great way to get in beneficial movement.  This method was recently popularized by Fitness Guro Pavel Tsatsouline who called it “greasing the groove”.  Free squat are an excellent exercise for this method as are push ups for anyone needing more upper body work.  I like burpees  for this and will do 10 an hour while at work. 

8.       Take the stairs whenever possible.  This is another way to get in more daily activity.  Increased daily activity will do wonders for your body composition.  They will also do wonders for heart health since activity promotes veinous return effectively allowing the heart to rest some.  Additionally, the short range knee extension which occurs while taking the stairs strengthens the vmo  (vastus medialis oblique) and common culprit in knee pain.  Next time you’re given the opportunity to avoid an elevator and take the stairs do so! Your heart, body and knees will love you for it.

9.       Develop your neck muscles.  I use a variety of exercises but the easiest and most accessible is the wall bridges.  Simply rest your head on a wall and walk your feet out.  For martial artists or people participating in contact sports, strong necks are a must!  For fighters not only having a stronger neck but also a thicker neck can help avoid being knocked out.  Everyone could benefit from having stronger necks not only for general resiliency but because strong necks contribute to good posture.

10.   Make sure you are stretching.  I like to do static stretching at the end of the day.  It helps me relax and sleep better.  Stretching is super important for health and balance.  In fact, the reasons and benefits of stretching are so many that it’s actually beyond the scope of this article.  Static stretching is not the only the type of stretching you should be doing .  I include dynamic stretching and mobility work during most of my workouts and skills training.  Exercising using full range of motion exercises and some extended range exercises will help develop your dynamic flexibility.  Rotating your joints through their full range of motion as well as including squats and hindu pushups in your exercise regimen will improve your mobility.
There you have it folks… 10 easy ways to improve you general fitness!!!  Making opportunities where there seemingly aren’t any is the trademark of the true warrior and survivor.  This is more than a technique it is a mind set.   A dear friend of mine Coach Laren Umphlett once commented to me all day is a training opportunity.  By training not only with intense physical exercise and skills training but by learning to also relax.  Also exercising the mind with study, creative endeavours, and practicing staying calm in challenging situations.

In the spirit of getting more training opportunities let me tell you about or remind you of our Youtube channels, blogs and Facebook pages under the names Miami Arnis Group and Urban Survivalcraft.

Your Brother in Arms,
Tony Torre